Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Greenhouse Breather

Last weekend I decided to start bringing some of the plants from one of our greenhouses out into the open to start acclimatising them to outdoor conditions again. They have been crammed in there all winter, and now that its spring and and most of them are starting to show signs of new growth they could do with being repositioned or at least given more space.

The weather outside is warm enough that some of them should be fine to come out of the greenhouse. And that's exactly what I did, taking out some of the plants into the open and effectively also decongesting the greenhouse.

Winter weary Begonia luxurians. They had to come out so I could remove a few plants placed behind them.
Afterwards they went back in and will stay there for a few more weeks.
Some of these plants would have been fine outside anyway, and were meant to be planted this year but whilst they are in pots and we still had the space we thought that they might as well overwinter under glass to minimise blemishes come spring so they look nice already the moment they get planted out.

So impressed by this plant, Zantedeschia 'White Giant'. Looking forward to planting this one out soon!
Despite the warm spell, it's still early spring and the weather can be unpredictable so I can't take the majority out, they will have to stay there for a few more weeks. But by reducing the numbers slightly they get more space and room to lush out once they start their spring flushes. Plus it makes it much easier for me to tidy them up and do some watering!

That's better, a bit more space!
Anyone who loves plants wants a greenhouse, the bigger the better! Heck, if we had the space and resource then we'd want a glasshouse even! But for now an extra greenhouse would do, at least it will be a bit bigger than our existing ones which would mean more plants that can be accommodated.

Schefflera digitata with juvenile leaves
But before that we need to sort out the clay pile (see second photo) where that future greenhouse will go. Nothing is ever that straightforward eh!

Mark :-)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bye Bye Nosey Neighbour!

No not this one, she's really really lovely! And she's not nosey at all but rather very friendly!

I meant this one, the 'nosey neighbour' as we said bye bye to him last weekend when we finally laid the last two layers of blocks to the pond to achieve a final depth of six foot and six inches.

'Nosey Neighbour'
Thank goodness for the mild and sunny spell we're currently having as we were finally able to do nearly all of the blocking to the pond and have finally reached the very top layer. All that is left to do, block wise is to finish off the sides of the pond window once the window frame has been installed.

Fitting the Surface Skimmer
Me for scale...

Now that we have completed this bit we'll take a very short break from this area and concentrate on spring tidying the rest of the garden. And when once that's done we can start the next phase, the pergola

From concrete to wood!

Mark :-)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fine Dissaray 2

Standing at the back door, looking out into the garden while holding a hot mug of tea I saw this sight (and fortunately the camera was nearby too!):
March 2012, with some new plants for this year
Which reminded of a previous blog post I wrote autumn last year when I was preparing the garden for the then coming winter months.

The same spot October 2011
And now it's become the other way around and we're preparing the garden for spring and the summer months ahead. From one dissaray to another, this time plants are starting to go back out into the garden again and pots are either being put back where they were last year, rearranged, or repositioned.

Some plants are looking weary for being through winter, either indoors or out. Whilst some remained pristine which is great! Those looking a bit scruffy should start to recover now that it's warming up and daylight is longer.

There are lots to do, and lots to sort out. And I'm excited!! Looking forward to everyday that I can go out there and do some gardening. The clocks are moving forward this weekend, which means we also gain an extra hour of daylight in the evenings. Which means an extra hour of gardening with the sun still out once we get back home from work.

Some people moan that we lose an hour of our precious weekend, I say we gain an extra hour to garden after work everyday now till October. Wonderful!!

Mark :-)

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Rather Satisfying Weekend

Like many gardeners we always have one eye on the weather forecasts, and with sunny weather heading into last weekend we were rather disappointed with the forecast for the weekend itself - rain, rain and more rain.
We had already made plans on the tasks we wanted to complete - block laying, being the main task. Unfortunately block laying and rain just do not mix, so on Friday evening we were thinking up a plan B.

So on Saturday morning, instead of mixing concrete we headed down to Crews Hill, an area just on the northern edge of London filled with various garden centres and nurseries. When we last visited about a month or so ago Mark had spotted in one of the garden centres hundreds of the banana plant Ensete ventricosum 'Maurrelii'. These had probably been there since the previous summer as they were of a good size, much bigger than the typical small plants you see being sold in early spring. We thought it would be a good time to pick two or three up to grow on until they could be planted out. But luck would not be on our side as they had either sold them all or removed them - the area was full of newly arrived fuschias.

Gloriosa rothschildiana

A recent delivery of Trachycarpus at Paramount Plants
A selection of exotic plants at Paramount
So the rest of the morning was spent nursery hopping, although we came back with very little, just a Nandina domestica and two packs of dahlias.

The rain had stopped by the time we got home, and even better the forecast had been revised, we were now expecting a gloomy afternoon but no more rain.

We opted against block laying and decided to tackle one big job that needed to be tackled for some time - trimming the Yew tree (Taxus baccata)!

Angry grey clouds and a misshapen Yew
As you can see from the first picture it had ended up losing its symmetry with a couple of branches getting out of proportion. So up went the ladder and we took the branches down bit by bit. Mark was busy holding the ladder and passing me tools to take any pictures during the big chop, but down it all came safely. This was rather tricky as it would have been easier to cut these branches off at the base and let them fall, but with delicate plants underneath we had to take our time.

With the branches trimmed the view was opened up.
Twinkles having a look at what was going on.
Knickers quickly climbed up to see what Twinkles was up to, and then found the branches he usually climbs on had been removed.
On Sunday we were again expecting an overcast day, although we did get a light drizzle in the morning it wasn't too much to put us off, so we got stuck back into the pond.

The far corner is where the return pipes from the filter house will enter the pond. This had been left outstanding as we had to pick up the correct pipe for this (2" pressure pipe). Each piece of pipe juts through the wall and will be connected into the filter system once it is installed. On the pond side these will eventually be trimmed flush and sealed by fibreglass when the pond is made water proof.

There are still two layers of blocks to lay, but we will do this next weekend. Then the pond will finally reach its final depth (roughly 6'6").

After lunch we got stuck into some spring cleaning in the garden (see Marks blog); cutting, trimming, and leaf blowing, which was topped off with a trip to the recycling centre.

After fitting in so many different activities we both felt this was a most enjoyable weekend in the garden, so diverse and so many different tasks. 

Roll on next weekend - the forecast is currently sunny!!


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring Clean!

My mind is buzzing with lots of creative ideas now that it's spring. But before I get very creative we must clean up the garden first.

Cleaning up the garden means spring tidying up of course. We're about a month behind, usually most of the tidying have been done by now but because we have been concentrating on the new garden and pond we have pretty much left tidying up until recently. But now that spring is fast approaching, plants are waking up from their winter dormancy, and lots of new growth is becoming more visible we could not delay this yearly ritual any longer.

Lots of hacking away old dead growth needs to be done as well as clearing away fallen leaves and other debris that has accumulated in the past few months, all in preparation for the arrival of new growth in the spring and summer. It's very satisfying once you start getting stuck in tidying up and seeing the old, dead growth removed and the garden starts to look much neater again. 

The jungle get tidied up! Clump of Arundo donax 'Variegata' gets its annual trim
A leaf blower is indispensable in our garden
It is a gradual process that will preoccupy us for days, even a few weeks depending of how much time we are able to spend on this activity. It's very enjoyable, therapeutic and calming and you also get a chance to inspect individual plants and areas of the garden much more closely than the usual. 

Podophyllum 'Kaleidoscope' is waking up from its winter slumber
I didn't even notice until today that this Trachycarpus fortunei has set seed
Cardiocrinum giganteum is always one of the first ones to comes back in our garden
And you get a better perspective of the garden. The more mess that gets cleared away, the more conducive it is to be creative, which I'm really looking forward to. But before that we better get cutting, pruning, sweeping, and trimming!


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Win a Signed Copy of Exotic Gardening by Ian Cooke

We have been kindly given a copy of Exotic Gardening by Ian Cooke, signed by the author to give away to one lucky reader.

Ian Cooke will be well known to many of you having written several gardening books as well as being a garden designer and RHS Judge. Ian also has his own Garden Blog - Pampas2Palms where you can catch up with his gardens both in the UK and USA.

Featuring guides to exotic plants as well as advice on propagation and tips to get the best out of your plants Ian's book should be a must have to anyone growing exotics in the UK (and further afield).

Illustrated with pictures of the plants themselves and also a number of well designed exotic gardens the book covers larger and smaller gardens. We have had our own copy of this book since it was released and can confirm it is an enjoyable read.

To have a look inside check out the Amazon page.

One of the Gardens featured in Exotic Gardening
How to enter

Simply reply to this thread telling us about your favourite exotic plant.

You can gain additional entries by retweeting @markngaz promoting the competition on twitter; mentioning the competition on your own blog; or by sharing the link to this competition from the Alternative Eden Facebook page (you must like the page to share the link). The number of entries will not increase if you retweet or share links more than once.

Good luck and don’t forget to subscribe to our blog to ensure you don’t miss out on future competitions and posts.

Terms and conditions: This competition closes at 23.59 on 30.03.2012. Any entries received after this time will not be counted. Entrants must be UK residents aged 18 years or older to enter. By entering this competition you agree and consent to your name being published and by taking part in the competition, entrants are deemed to have read, understood and accepted all of the Terms and Conditions and agreed to be bound by them. The winner will be selected at random and will be announced here on the blog.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Knickers as a baby!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Planting a Large Yucca

With the lovely sunny weekend we decided it would be the right time to plant out our Yucca faxoniana. We bought this last year and spent the winter dodging its vicious sharp spikes whenever we went past where it was temporarily sited.

Not only was this a large plant to move, we were also planting it in the second raised bed next to the pond. Fortunately we have a sack barrow which helped get it close, but we still had to lift it up onto the bed.

Next to Raised Bed 2
Mark preparing the planting hole
The temporary steps
To get round this we built temporary steps from concrete blocks and a couple of scaffold boards, this at least made it a three part lift rather than having to heave it up in one go.

The next problem was how to get it out of the pot. We decided that we would have to cut the pot apart to get the plant out, a shame as these big pots are useful but it was just too heavy to lift the Yucca out of the pot.

I didn't take any pictures mid-cut but here's the remains of the pot
I cut the bottom off the pot with a Stanley Knife and as the pot doesn't have vertical sides we were able to lift it into the hole using the pots handles and then slice the side of the pot to get it out of the hole.

Yucca faxoniana in its new home, with Mark back filling the hole round it
This turned out to be a much simpler job than either of us had expected, so may well adopt this technique again in the future.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Catch it While You Can!

Spring, spring, spring! The weather has been consistently much more mild the past few days and coupled with such a sunny weekend you can't help but feel that spring is definitely here. And the length of daylight is steadily increasing too so you find yourself having more opportunity to do some gardening and undertake some preparation for the coming growing season. Exciting times ahead!

And with this excitement it's easy enough to be too preoccupied with thoughts of what needs to be done that it's easy enough to miss what's currently looking good in the garden.

I often find myself in this situation, that I get so focused on the things that I want to do in the garden that I miss out on fleeting moments of beauty. So walking around the garden today and noticing a few plants flowering and looking wonderful I immediately went back in the house and grabbed the camera so I can take their photos before I miss the chance of capturing their beauty once again. 

Illicium simonsii
Illicium simonsii
I love the understated and creamy yellow flowers of this plant and the scent is absolutely heavenly! Before I saw it flowering I first noticed the sweet scent wafting in the air and immediately thought that it must be coming from this wonderful plant. The photos above are from my spare plant that has done well in a pot and has sailed through fine outside last winter. I have another one planted out and that has done very well too, although the flowers are yet to open. And that's a good thing as I will get another chance to enjoy its pretty flowers and wonderful scent.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Pigeons on a Palm: Central London

Sunday, March 04, 2012

A Weekend in Devon

As regular readers will recall we sometimes visit fellow Exotic Gardeners Lucien and Laura in the delightful Devon town of Exmouth. Since we last visited the garden won the Exmouth in Bloom competition for 2011, so this weekend not only were we visiting our friends but also an award winning garden! (Photos from last summer)

The drive down to Devon from Bedfordshire takes about three hours, so we decided to break up our journey by calling in at a nursery. There are several we could have called into that would not have been too much of a detour, but as we have never been to Desert to Jungle before it was a good time to make our first visit.

Ideally for us the Nursery is just 5 minutes away from the M5 Motorway, so it was not much of a detour, although we did end up staying about an hour longer than expected! With it being early March the new stocks have not yet arrived, but the plants that had spent the winter here still provided us with a great choice.

A fine selection of agaves, we spent quite a long time looking though the selection.
Succulents, Echeveria's and cacti
More succulents, with impressive Yucca rostrata in the background - if only the car was bigger!
Early March is never the best time to see a nursery, however the selection still kept us occupied for a couple of hours!
Every nursery should have a cat! (and most seem to have several)
The tree ferns (Dicksonia antartica) were very chunky, as the owners personally select larger plants
rather than the slim line versions often seen elsewhere.
On the Saturday we called in at a large retail mega-store - Trago. This store only exists in the South West and stocks everything you can think of, from shoes, clothing and paint, to pet care, toys and plants. The garden centre is vast, and whilst many of the plants are, as you would expect, typical garden centre plants, we did pick up a rather unusual Cordyline 'Karo Kiro'. Which is reportedly hardy to about -7C. I dont think we will be testing this just yet, so it will more likely be a potted specimen that can go into a greenhouse for winter.

Trago have several Peacocks wandering the grounds.
One section of the garden centre, there is a similar sized area of show gardens and garden buildings behind us!
Not Exotic, but the trays of primrose made an attractive display.
Our plants in the back of Laura's car. Notice the Cordyline 'Karo Kiri' on the right hand side.
The weekend wasn't all plants, and we spent Saturday afternoon visiting Dawlish, a quaint coastal town.

Traditional Devon Pasties and Cake, the perfect lunch!
Despite being early March the sun made us feel like were were on our holidays!
The centre of Dawlish is landscaped along side the river Dawlish Water.
The scene would have been complete with some bowls players.

Trachycarpus Fortunei, well establish plants in the town gardens.
The town may be quaint but the ducks and geese were vicious, snatching the food away from Luciens hand!

All too soon the weekend was over, but it won't be long before we return!


P.S. For the observant amongst you, who spotted the giraffe?